MC12: What outcomes would strengthen multilateralism?

Thursday, 30 September 2021, 16:30 - 17:30 CEST

A session at the WTO Public Forum.


Deborah James of OWINFS opened by noting that, if the TRIPS waiver had been agreed when introduced, perhaps a million less people would be dead today. Vaccine apartheid, enforced by the WTO, is the most glaring example of how broken the WTO is. This week, 206 major civil society groups representing millions of people from more than 170 countries delivered the “Turnaround: New Multilateral Trade Rules for People-Centered Shared Prosperity and Sustainable Development”.

Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter, Ambassador of South Africa to the WTO, cautioned Members against ignoring the need for a TRIPS waiver, stating that “Our view is that the TRIPS waiver is an integral part of any successful outcome at MC12.” “Sharing of technology and know-how is critical to ensure that we have timely, affordable and equitable access to life-saving products,” she said. Despite increased global production of vaccines, access remains limited in parts of the world, she said, noting that less than 3 percent of adults in Africa have been vaccinated. Mlumbi-Peter said she was optimistic members would reach an agreement on a waiver by the ministerial. She also argued in favor of disciplines on trade distorting domestic support in agriculture.

Indian Ambassador to the WTO Brajendra Navnit reiterated India’s support for the waiver and said he was disappointed that the WTO, unlike other multilateral organizations, had not changed “even one percent of its stated stance” in response to the pandemic. He noted that over 800 million people are receiving life-saving nutritional support through public stockholding in India. Countries should aim for a package on agriculture that addresses food insecurity, including expanding support for public stockholding, and preserves support for rural and agricultural development. If Members agree to an outcome on fisheries, it must preserve development of small scale fisheries who have not contributed to overfishing and overcapacity.

Muhammad Mujtaba Piracha, Ambassador of Pakistan, argued that the world is not going to be able to address 21st century issues through “plurilateral” action such as JSIs. He posited that if the WTO is going to be an effective multilateral agency, it must be a cooperative organization not just competitive. As development has been absent when it comes to negotiations, the WTO risks irrelevance. He concluded that the WTO can get back on track by delivering on the development agenda.

All three ambassadors noted that Covid is having a disproportionate impact on the economies of developing countries, and that the WTO cannot maintain a “business as usual” stance as it has to date. Sanya Reid Smith reviewed the legal mandates of the WTO. Pro-development mandates, such as strengthening Special & Differential Treatment, are still not agreed - twenty years later. Similarly, the 2004 mandate for an early harvest on cotton that has not been resolved; nor is the mandate for a final solution on public stockholding. In contrast to these unresolved multilateral mandates on development, she noted that there are 9 plurilateral negotiations in the WTO, which lack a legal mandate and some even are in violation of the Marrakesh agreement.

The event was organized by Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network together with the Rede Brasileira Pela Integração dos Povos (REBRIP), Brazil; the Tricontinental Centre (CETRI), Belgium; and the East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC).


  • H.E. Ms Xolelwa Mlumbi-Peter, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa to the WTO
  • H.E. Mr Brajendra Navnit, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of India to the WTO
  • H.E. Dr. Muhammad Mujtaba Piracha, Ambassador of Pakistan to the WTO
  • Sanya Reid Smith, Senior Researcher, Third World Network
  • Deborah James, Our World Is Not for Sale (OWINFS) global network (Moderator)